RTI Applicant Gets His Pension for a Song!
Quite literally. Guntupalli Anjaneyulu, a resident of Andhra Pradesh and a renowned theatre artist, at 80, secured his held up pension by singing, through a video conference hearing, to the judges, who duly nodded to his notes and ordered the immediate release of his rightful artiste’s pension, held up in red tape for the past several years!
 
Barely keeping his body and soul together with his extremely limited means, the enterprising Anjaneyulu, with a never-say-die spirit, resolved to get to the bottom of the matter.
 
Getting no response from the public information officer (PIO) after filing, with the help of a friend, an RTI application to know the status of his pension, Anjameyulu stepped up his battle and filed his second appeal with the Central Information Commission (CIC).
 
At the video conference hearing, he showcased his theatrical talent to the CIC to establish his credentials and lo and behold! CIC’s order, compelling the ministry of cultural affairs to respond to his application, fell into his hands! The order assures him of the release of his pension, as soon as he provides his Aadhaar card and life certificate.
 
States CIC Prof Sridhar Acharyulu in his order, “The appellant is 80 years old and has an excellent track record as a theatre artiste. He is a celebrated singer and has portrayed several characters of Indian mythology in Telugu dramas. He started his career in the year 1962 and has been incessantly performing various stage plays across the border of Andhra Pradesh. His representative requested the Commission to hear him singing a poem from the role of Karna of the Mahabharata as part of an “Eka Patra Abhinaya” (one-man show). He has rendered effortlessly a long monologue and has sung a padyam (poem) in the traditional style of a yesteryears drama artiste. As there is no encouragement to the theatre artistes of this traditional style, he is finding it difficult to make both ends meet. It is the duty of the public authority to inform him whether his application is rejected or under consideration and how long they sit over the application.’’
  
The Commission order directed the PIO of the cultural ministry to provide point-wise information within 30 days. The CIC also directed the ministry to issue show-cause notice to the CPIO as to why penalty should not be imposed upon him for not responding within the time stipulated. The CIC also recommended that his application for pension be considered and enquiry instituted into “the lethargy of the people in dealing with such applications for pension from the economically poor but culturally rich artistes like the applicant.’’
 
Next, in response to the CIC order, IA Kamal, undersecretary of the ministry of culture immediately released his pension! 
 
He wrote to the RTI applicant asking him to produce the required documents needed for the release of his pension: “With reference to the Central Information Commissioner’s video conference held on 10 May 2018 in the appeal made by you for the release of artiste’s pension, I would like to inform you that on scrutinizing the application/documents furnished by you, it has been observed that you have not furnished the digital life certificate (DLC) which is an essential requirement as per the norms/guidelines of the scheme. Accordingly, you are requested to furnish your DLC processed through the Jeevan Pramaan Portal ("https://jeevanpramaan.gov.in https://jeevanpramaan.gov.in) by using the necessary information like Aadhaar number, mobile number, bank account number and pension payment order (PPO) to enable this ministry to process your case for disbursement of the monthly pension.”
 
The applicant, under intimation to the CIC, sent the required documents on 18 June 2018 and has already started receiving his pension.
 
Taking a serious note of people not getting their rightful pension due to the absence of Aadhaar linkage, the CIC in his order has stated:  “The Commission took a serious note of attempting to link the pension payment with Aadhaar. The public authority shall not use Aadhaar as a ground or non-submission of online DLC to suspend the payment of pension without due information and opportunity to the pensioner.
 
The Commission noted that there are two information related issues involved in this case:
 
One- Before stopping the pension, the pensioner should be intimated sufficiently in advance, that he/she has to submit the digital life certificate online. 
 
Two- the pension payment is being linked to Aadhaar. The Commission, while appreciating the efforts of the public authorities in facilitating the filing of digital life certificate, would like to direct the public authority to put in a place a mechanism to compulsorily intimate the pensioner about the last date for filing the DLC before stopping the pension. 
 
“Keeping in view the advanced age of the pensioner and possible issues in access to the digital mechanism, the pensioners shall be reminded of the requirement before stopping the pension. As the artistes are getting old age pension, which helps them to survive with dignity, without depending upon others, including their sons or sons-in-law, it is desirable to even make telephone calls and take all measures to inform the pensioner or his family members instead of resorting to the harsh step of not paying the pension.”
 
Earlier, the PIO of the ministry of culture had replied,  “The information was provided to the applicant that his pension will be released. He was also informed and requested that every year he should submit life certificate in the respective bank branch so that his pension is credited continuously without any break. However, the delay that happened on the part of the regional office, Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO), is regretted and the same shall not be repeated again. However, directions have been issued to fix responsibility for the delay.” 
 
(i) It is also submitted he has submitted his life certificate in May 2016 and accordingly his pension was released in June 2016. He has been informed several times that every year the pensioner needs to submit life certificate in the respective bank branch for continuance of his pension. The pensioner is well aware and informed about the rules/conditions as is evident from correspondences with the pensioner. It is his duty and responsibility to submit life certificate in the respective bank branch in time.
 
(ii) Time and again the matter has been taken up with the bank branches to ensure submission of life certificates and send the life certificates available with banks, for the continuance of pensions. 
 
(iii) From time to time, press releases regarding an appeal to pensioners for submission of life certificates have been issued for publication in newspapers.
 
The pensioner is well aware of the rules and there was no delay in the release of his pension (after the submission of life certificate). It is humbly prayed and submitted that no compensation should be allowed to the appellant. Now Aadhaar linking (with PPO) is being done and only after that pension is being released. This facility of Aadhaar linking is available in this office and also with CSC centres.”
 
However, CIC Sridhar Acharyulu has now further strengthened the rights of pensioners by directing the public authorities to be more communicative beyond mere paper formalities.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
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COMMENTS

Parveen Kohli

2 months ago

The CIC is great humane personality. May God bless him for helping the poor & helpless pensioners. His order in a similar case wherein the pensioner has not been given even minimum monthly pension of Rs 740 from 5.8.2000 to 31.8.2014 and from 1.9.2014 till date has still not been paid. Hon'ble CIC passed very good orders which you may like to go through.
VERY VERY IMPORTANT ORDER AGAINST EPFO - MUST READ
RTI - CIC - Show cause notice to EPFO (Public Authority) for Rs 25 lakh compensation & for maximum penalty to the CPIO, EPFO, Park Street, Kolkata issued by the Central Information Commission. Case file number is CIC/EPFOG/A/2018/153919. Next date for the penalty proceedings is 15.10.2018. How can I post a copy of order to you. My email ID is [email protected]
Parveen Kohli
9810306699

The Truth about PPP: Heads They Win, Tails We Lose
Looking at some of my earlier battles for Right to Information (RTI), I remembered an interesting aspect of public private partnerships (PPPs). As information commissioner, I had come across many instances where PPPs clearly refused to accept that they were public authorities and hence subject to the RTI Act. 
 
Some of these agreements were scandalous and when I would order them to give information, since they were either controlled or substantially financed by the government, they would often get stays from courts. 
 
In one case the government department officially confirmed that they had no copy of the agreement! 
 
The Central information commission (CIC) sent a letter to the government in 2011 that it should include a clause in all PPP agreements that both parties acknowledged that these entities were public authorities and hence subject to the RTI Act. Unfortunately, at that time the government refused to do this. 
 
After retiring, I filed an RTI application with Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd, since I was aware that the government had 26% equity in it. They refused to provide information, claiming that it was a private company and not a public authority. I approached the Maharashtra information commission, which gave a clear order that Mumbai Metro One was a public authority and hence subject to the RTI Act. I then obtained the agreements, bid documents and other information. 
 
This also reveals a fascinating story.  The private company is Reliance Infrastructure Pvt Ltd (Reliance Infra) that has a French partner with minority stake. Reliance Infra got the right to make and operate the Mumbai Metro after a competitive bidding. Reliance Infra had committed that the project cost would be Rs2,356 crore and it would be completed within 60 months. It actually took 83 months and the company claimed that the project cost had gone up to Rs4,321 crore; an increase of 83.4%! 
 
In the agreement it was committed that the fare would be Rs6 to Rs10 notionally for 2004 with an 11% increase every four years. By that calculation, the fare should be Rs9 minimum and Rs15 maximum in 2020. There is no clause in the agreement for any other increase due to any cause. It appears to be a well-crafted agreement.
 
One of the key reasons for having PPP projects is said to be to get finance and expertise. In this project the government gave Rs650 crore as ‘viability gap funding’, land worth about Rs600 crore and Rs132 crore as equity. Thus, the total amount given by the government was about Rs1,382 crore, plus monopoly rights.
 
Reliance Infra contributed only Rs380 crore as equity. The rest came as loans mainly from public sector banks. Yet the equity share of Reliance Infra is 74% and 26% for the government.  
 
At present, the fare is Rs10 to Rs40. Reliance Infra claimed that since the investment has gone up, this too is unaffordable and fare should be Rs10 to Rs110 as decided by a wise fare fixing committee!  
 
Reliance Infra claims it is losing Rs1 crore per day. The original agreement is for Reliance to build and earn for 30 years after which it should be handed over to the government. 
 
The way this is going, it appears the government will probably give a subsidy to this project, or organise a loan waiver from all the banks and give the entire project to Reliance permanently, instead of for 30 years. It is also possible that all three may be done.
 
An international consultant, Louis Berger was appointed in May 2013 by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the government agency, to evaluate the increased costs and delays claimed by Reliance Infra. 
It gave a report in the end of April 2014 stating that most of the claims for increase in project costs or fares by Reliance Infra were untenable and the government should not accept them. The report has clearly stated that most of the delays were due to Reliance Infra and many costs had been grossly underestimated while bidding by the company.
 
As an example, while bidding, Reliance Infra had estimated the cost of the car depot at Rs46 crore, but claimed that it spent Rs322 crore. 
 
The agreement did not have any provisions for cost escalations and yet a fare fixing committee has recommended a fare structure of Rs10 to Rs110.  
 
It is clear that at such a fare the ridership would go down significantly making the project completely unviable. Reliance had given a business plan when it bid for the project. 
 
It is apparent that the cost estimates and the business plan were not even reasonably correct. Since Reliance Infra’s contribution is less than 10% of the stated cost, the government has to make it work, unless it has the courage to take it back. 
 
Many of us have suspected that most PPP projects result in public resources being handed over to private businesses for a song. 
 
It is also believed that private parties often gold plate the project. If the business plan works well, the business makes great profits; if it does not, the public loses. 
This is the classic ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ in action. 
 
This article is not about Reliance Infra or any particular government. My perception is that the government agency, MMRDA, has made a valiant attempt to defend public interests, but is unlikely to succeed ultimately. 
 
In such PPP agreements, public resources are being given away almost as gifts to private business. The real loser is the poorest farmer in Vidarbha or the tribal in Gadchiroli whose resources are being given away as gifts. 
 
Is the design of our PPP agreements flawed? Or is this the consequence of a legal-judicial system which favours the powerful? 
 
I concede that the argument against PPPs has been lost a long time back. But it should be the endeavour of everyone in our nation to come up with agreements where the public’s interests are safeguarded and the tendering system becomes meaningful. 
 
In many cases, vital changes are made subsequently, making the tendering process a farce. 
 
I am hoping the government will at least make it mandatory that all PPP projects will be made subject to the RTI Act. They are public authorities as per the law, but take advantage of our dysfunctional legal system.  
 
Perhaps citizens will better monitor such projects far better than the government agencies.
 
(Shailesh Gandhi served as Central Information Commissioner under the RTI Act, 2005, during 18 September 2008 to 6 July 2012. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from IIT-Bombay. Before becoming a full time RTI activist in 2003, he sold his packaging business. In 2008, he was conferred the Nani Palkhivala Memorial Award for civil liberties.)
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COMMENTS

Manoj

2 months ago

Must applaud you for your tireless fight against bilking of projects.

There is a lot of gaming of PPP projects, because they are inherently supposed to be more flexible that straight work contracts. Hence companies bid low to get the projects and then renegotiate the terms in their favour leveraging obliging politicians and bureacrats. The 3rd element of PPP - Public is neither represented nor even kept informed of what is being done in their name. Reliance is of course well known for making the government dance to it's tune, whichever be the party, but even reputed multinationals do this trick.

There are several far superior PPP models that have been used by countries like UK, China, Singapore etc, but these countries are nowhere as chaotic as indian government is in announcing badly thought out projects and policies at the drop of a hat. Put it down to poor education of the so-called educated class, and the high degree of criminality we prefer in politicians, or indifferent bureacracy, but public service, planning, project execution, careful use of community resources are non existent in India.

Veeresh Malik

2 months ago

There are all sorts of sanctimonious letters from assorted government departments to each other about how PPPs should come under the RTI Act. Likewise Public Grievance. I support your efforts but have no idea what to do anymore.

REPLY

Nalla Rao

In Reply to Veeresh Malik 2 months ago

Sir it was always like that all contracts with private companies in Govt and semi government organisations are skewed to favour the Private Operater.
Air India is cesspool of this .
I exposed Corruption by the CMD and others and was rewarded with a Termination.
Air India lawyers are upset that I have filed Criminal Cases against the CMD and other Criminal elements .
The Court has not responded as yet .
They obtain Stay orders behind my back and these lawyers grease the system and fatten their purses at the public Exchequer cost in crores of Rupees.

Manoj

In Reply to Nalla Rao 2 months ago

Oops. Are we brothers in arms? Similar experiences in government. After a dozen years, I left for my sanity and integrity and have not been paid my dues for 15 years and counting. Wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly in India, but please hang in there - there are some good folks too among the sleazy crowd in the government. Hope your case reaches one of them and you do get at least some of what you earned.

If Maha Metro Is a Public Authority, Why No Suo Moto Disclosures under RTI Act?
Despite the Maharashtra Metro Rail Corp Ltd (under which come the Pune and Nagpur Metros) being a public-private-partnership (PPP) project, which implies it is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, everything about it is opaque.
 
Pune-based RTI activist, Qaneez Sukhrani has filed a complaint with the Central Information Commission (CIC), Delhi and the State Chief Information Commission, Maharashtra, a fortnight back, after Maha Metro failed to put up suo moto information on its website under Section 4 of the RTI Act. Maha Metro has admitted that it comes under the RTI Act. As for the CIC, it has replied that her complaint has been directed to the compliance cell.
 
As per the rules of any PPP project, the private body, which enters into partnership with a government body automatically becomes a government agency and is, therefore, a public authority under the RTI Act and, therefore, transparency is mandatory. 
 
The rule states:  “1.2.1: If public services are proposed to be provided through a public private partnership (PPP), all information relating to the PPPs must be disclosed in the public domain by the public authority entering into the PPP contract/concession agreement.
 
 “This may include details of the special purpose vehicle (SPV), if any set up, detailed project reports, concession agreements, operation and maintenance manuals and other documents generated as part of the implementation of the PPP project. The documents under the ambit of the exemption from disclosure of information under section 8(1)(d) and 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act would not be disclosed suo moto. Further, information about fees, tolls, or other kinds of revenue that may be collected under authorization from the government, information in respect of outputs and outcomes, process of selection of the private sector party may also be proactively disclosed. All payments made under the PPP project may also be disclosed in a periodic manner along with the purpose of making such payment.’’
 
Says Ms Sukhrani, “Pune’s Metro comes under the Maha Metro, which is a 50:50 jointly owned company of the government of India and the government of Maharashtra. For an SPV, which claims to be professional, where is their knowledge of suo moto disclosures under Sec 4 of the RTI Act 2005?”
 
“Currently, http://punemetrorail.org/ shows *how to file RTI application* and *list of PIO/FAA*, both of which have been subsequent to my complaint. But where are the rest of the suo moto disclosures as per Section 4? Such an opaque attitude means denial of uploading of standard contracts, drawings, alignments of the intended routes,” she added.
 
Ms Sukhrani initially sent her complaint by email in the first week of September to Maha Metro, which was ignored. Thereafter, on 14th September, she sent a copy of it to SIC and CIC asking them to take due cognisance and pass strictures.
 
She stated in the complaint,  “As you are an SPV under the government of Maharashtra, you also come under the RTI Act 2005. I looked but could not find a tab indicating suo moto (voluntary) disclosures. Neither did I find a list of PIOs & FAAs under a separate tab. Kindly enlighten tomorrow itself whether you come under the RTI Act 2005 or not.”
 
The planning department of Maha Metro replied, “With reference to your mails, this is to inform you that, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corp comes under the RTI Act 2005. Suo moto disclosure is being uploaded on website. This is for your information please.” 
 
Ms Sukhrani says, “After my complaint to the information commission, I received a call from Mr Prahlad Kachare that he has joined Maha Metro to undertake RTI related work. After this on the same evening, I received their acceptance that they fall under the ambit of RTI Act 2005 and an assurance from Maha Metro that they will do needful. Till today their website remains as it is. On the 19th of September, I received an acknowledgement from CIC with a file number that my complaint has been registered with the compliance cell.’’
 
Now with Dr Kachare on the hot seat of RTI-related information, we hope citizens would get a peek into the intricate information of the two metro lines, as activists and experts allege haphazard planning of the alignment of the metro route itself!
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
 
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